National Geographic : 1935 Jun
LIFE'S TENOR IN ETHIOPIA Africa's Land of Early Christianity Now Yields Minerals for Modern Industry BY JAMES LODER PARK Formerly Secretary of the American Legation at Addis Ababa T HE lights flickered. With one accord my wife and I rose to turn them down. Momentarily we had forgotten that, we were no longer beside our kerosene' lamps in Ethiopia, but were aboard ship, America bound. Now, a month later, life on the fortieth floor of a Manhattan hotel seems fantastic, unreal. We marvel at almost forgotten lux uries. Here, water-hot, cold, and iced actually comes from taps, not from a spring a mile and a half away, by gasoline can portage on Ethiopian heads. Music is ours at the twist of a radio dial. More than a pious hope is an effort to telephone a friend. If the hotel chef has a beard that he keeps in high gloss with oil pur loined from the salad dressing, we don't know it. Far down below us are sidewalks de signed for and used by pedestrians; there's no mid-street milling of a white chamma clad multitude. Moreover, we haven't seen a mule-or a camel. We miss them. Ten years ago, while stationed in Aden, I made my first visit to Addis Ababa, capi tal of Ethiopia (long known as Abyssinia). During the past six and a half years it has been my home. Despite limited amenities, residence there has been a pleasant one, for Ethiopia is a land apart. Except for Egypt and Liberia, it is the only independent country in all Africa. Other empires through the ages have risen and fallen, but Ethiopia has endured. In the 20th century it is still a feudal land, with a people who are jealously proud of their freedom. The present ruling mon arch, Haile Selassie the First, traces his lineage back to the union of the Queen of Sheba with King Solomon; her visit to the Jewish capital is a familiar Biblical story (I Kings, 10: 1-10, 13). The Nation's be ginnings, however, are lost in the mists of the ancient past. Today Ethiopia is not so large as it was when her rulers first gained their title "King of Kings," and the Pharaohs were the only other forces in Africa to be reckoned with. SOnly some 424,000 square miles of the once vast vague domain still remain. Nowhere does it touch the sea. Since 1917 a 500-mile ribbon of steel, the Franco-Ethiopian Railway, has connected Addis Ababa with the outside world at Djibouti, on the French Somaliland coast. A Franco-Italian agreement early this year gave Italy an interest in this railroad. Normally, trains make a leisurely climb from the lowlands to the 8,100-foot eleva tion of the capital in three days, with night stops at Diredawa and Awash. "RAPID" TRAIN ONCE A WEEK IN THE DRY SEASON A "rapid" 36-hour service, however, that was put into operation at the time of the coronation festivities in 1930,* has con tinued on a once-weekly schedule during the dry seasons, when the roadbed is safe from wash-outs. On our departure from there this year we traveled on one of the first experimental runs, when the time was reduced to 29 hours. An overgrown, rambling village of about 70,000 people is Addis Ababa. It is com paratively new, having been built by the late Emperor Menelik II in 1892. Like earlier centers, which were usually aban doned when the wood supply was exhausted, it might have been doomed to a short life had Menelik not ordered the planting of eucalyptus trees. Today these trees pro vide the city with a mass of greenery, which to a large extent hides the corrugated roofs of the foreign-designed buildings and the circular thatch-roofed tukuls, or huts, of the natives. A COLORFUL CAPITAL OF MUD HOUSES Addis Ababa sprawls over more hills than did ancient Rome. On and on it rambles among the blue gums, without definite plan, * See "Coronation Days in Addis Ababa," by W. Robert Moore, and "Modern Ethiopia," by Addison E. Southard, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for June, 1931; and "Nature and Man in Ethiopia," by Wilfred H. Osgood, August, 1928.